First published on Huffington Post India
Salman Khan, 1988, Maine Pyaar Kiya; 2016, Sultan
Aamir Khan, 1988, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak; 2016, Dangal
Shahrukh Khan, 1992, Dewaana; 2016 Fan
It is not every day that angry activists, fierce feminists and general rebels with or without causes can unabashedly express their love for bourgeois cinema culture and millionaire film stars. But I can do that every time Aamir Khan Returns. Back in the days of teenage crush and stereotypical heteronormative ideas of romance, I fell in love with Aamir Khan’s charm from the very first scene of QSQT. He had me at the ‘Papa Kehete Hai turn and look at the camera’ moment.
Like love, loyalty too should ideally be unconditional, and so was mine, even though it was quite a soul crushing experience to survive disasters after disasters like Tum Mere Ho, Love Love Love, Isi Ka Naam Zindagi and more through the 90s.
A decent human should have by now come of age and got over the Bollywood fandom and focused on real men, the comrade next dorm. But me, I was still stuck at Aamir Khan. It was embarrassing, when in Law college canteens people asked me who’s your favorite film star, instead of saying something like an Om Puri or Balraj Sahni or Godard, I would, like an idiot say Aamir Khan. I would just blurt it out like that, without thought. And everybody in the group would then roll their eyes.
But you know what? My loyalty have been vindicated because with time Aamir Khan evolved. He came of age, so I didn’t have to, in a way that I had to disown him. Imagine if I was captured by Salman Khan or Shah Rukh Khan. Even after three decades, they are still sighted in horrors like like Kick and Happy New Year. What. Embarassment
Aamir Khan on the other hand has made me immensely proud with the choices he made as an actor, director and producer. With films like Taare Zameen Par (2007), Lagaan (2001), Peepli Live (2010) Aamir Khan Productions single handedly have changed the course of Hindi cinema. His collaborations with Rajkumar Hirani giving us Three Idiots (2009) and PK (2014) have gone as far as putting a dent, if not alter the modern Indian youth culture.
Then there is his Satyamev Jayate, a completely unique television viewing that once again made the great Indian joint family come together in front of the TV on a Sunday morning, decades after last episode of BR Chopra’s Mahabharata was aired. The show brought change makers, leaders and story tellers to the lime light, it dropped word bombs like patriarchy, homosexuality, female feoticide, gender, child sexual abuse, bang in the middle of sanskaari drawing rooms and raised funds and provided support to several organizations even days after the episodes were aired.
One would have thought there are no more surprises, but here comes Dangal from Aamir Khan Productions, releasing 23rd December. The first look of Dangal’s poster released in July this year had already got the feminists talking about the important message it gives out about women in short hair. Now the film’s trailer is out and it takes things a notch above. It does what is most important in the story of Mahavir Singh Phogat—gets the context right. A father training his daughters to win sports medals may not be a revolutionary idea everywhere, but it is one in a state like Haryana.
The trailer opens with the sullen face of a Haryanvi patriarch disappointed for the fourth time with birth of a girl child.
Haryana is a state where the sex ratio is one of India’s worst with only 879 women per 1000 males. Rampant killing of girl child in the womb or even after birth is no secret. Some parts of Haryana have officially ran out of women so bride shopping is a hot business in the state. And because you must utilize a good purchase to its full capacity, the brides which are being bought are being used by all men in the family for sexual exploitation. The film Matrubhoomi (2003) is hardly a fiction.
In such a Haryanvi village wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat dreams that one day his son would do what he couldn’t, win a gold medal in wrestling. Except his wife can’t beget a son. It wasn’t until his daughters pick up fights with men who called them bitch and slut that it occurred to him, gold medal is a gold medal whether it is won by a son or daughter. The message is clear, that things like female honour or male pride is not situated in the sexual organs. A medal is a medal, and one who brings it becomes legend. And so they did. Geeta and Babita, daughters of Mahavir Phogat, India’s first female wrestlers, created history at the 2010 Common Wealth Games winning Gold and Silver medals respectively.
The story of Geeta and Babita is of true courage and inspiration. I hope that the film truly depicts the opposition and ostracizing faced by Phogat family by the villagers for encouraging the daughters in a masculine sport.
Based on real-life story of Mahavir Singh Phogat and his four daughters, the film is directed by Nitesh Tiwari, with Aamir Khan playing Phogat. Scheduled to release on 23rd December.